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First Time Farm Buyer's Checklist

If your barn looks like this, you might need some insurance... 
First time farm buying? We are. Heck, it’s pretty much the first time we’ve bought anything. We bought one car and a couple college educations, but that’s about it in terms of valuable assets, and only one of those is tangible. We don’t even have the car anymore. So buying a house and bunch of land was quite an experience. We won’t officially close until the end of next week, but everything is all lined up and now we just gotta show up and sign the dotted lines.

This type of stuff might be old-hat for many of our readers, but for all you out there wanting to buy a farm one day, here’s a few little nuances that might help: 

Is the Farmland Good Enough for Your Vision?

It’s critically important for you to have some people at least take a look at the land and tell you that you’re not crazy. Even if they’re highly skeptical that you can pull it off, it’s still worth it to know that SOMEONE could theoretically farm the land you’re about to buy. I’d like to think I could tell from looking at the land that animals could thrive on it, but let’s be honest, I have no idea. I’ve read a lot, listened to a lot, seen a fair amount, but never done it myself. I could’ve totally missed something.

So, who do you call? Ghostbusters. Then after that call the NRCS, the Dept of Ag (for us it was the dairy guy), and your local Extension Agents. Ask them to come take a walk of the land with you, they’ll be happy to and you’ll learn a lot. Even if you don’t take all their advice it’s always good to listen.

Is There an Adequate and Clean Water Supply?

This one seems obvious, but you never know. If you’re in the desert southwest the question of water is probably the biggest question. If there is public water can you be certain you’ll always have access to as much as you need? Has the county instituted water restrictions during drought times in the past? If you have a well on property can it supply your daily requirements? If not, can you dig another well? Call some well-drillers in the area and ask their opinion. Ask all the stupid questions you want, it’s worth it. Talk to neighbors about how deep their wells are. Have they every gone dry? 

Once you get some clarity on the volume of water you’ll want to know more about the clarity of the water. Animals perform FAR better if they have consistent access to fresh, clean water. Especially dairy animals that are out in the summer heat. Is your water hard? Does it have high levels of sulfur? Are there other minerals in the water you should be aware of? You can buy tests online or have someone locally go out and test your water. We had multiple tests run for free by local companies that we’ll need to buy a filtration system from to filter our water. We have extremely hard water, which will corrode our cheesemaking equipment. It’s important to know how much that will cost and whether it’s even possible.

Site Permitting, Zoning and Building Construction

Give a call to the local Chamber of Commerce to clear your business plan and ask for recommendations. We were referred all over the place. The biggest ones were for zoning and permitting. If we want to farm we need to be zoned A-1 Ag, which we already are, but if we also want to have an on-site retail store we’ll need a separate permit for that. With cheesemaking it gets even more cumbersome. It’s good to know all that going in and to make sure no one says, “Well, ya cain’t do that around hurr”. The last thing you’d want is to move in and face some serious permitting, zoning or other legal issues that prevented you from running the business.

Get Insurance Quotes

Make sure you get some quotes and determine that you can afford the insurance quotes you're getting. In order to close on a house you have to have mortgage insurance and if you're not near a fire station you might be getting some pretty high quotes. Farm Bureau is probably the best bet in that instance. We've also struggled a bit to find a policy that could include the farm and the creamery. We have a couple solutions in mind, but I'm glad we learned of the potential issues now. Working out all those little kinks beforehand can save big headaches and surprises. I'll be posting separately on insurance in more detail in the near future.
Other little things include home inspection, pest/termite inspection, septic inspection, understanding proximity to nearest end-markets for your product, proximity to slaughterhouses/butchers, etc.
It’s a lot of stuff to check-off, but it’s worth it. You could always take the risk and just buy some land and/or a house and hope it all works out, but why? Most of the stuff above can be accomplished for free or at the seller’s expense.
Alright, so what did we forget? Better tell me now!